Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Chapter 16 [final half]

[How Agrajes and Galvanes rescue the damsel from death, and challenge the Duke on behalf of all knights-errant.]

[Broken lances in a joust at the Bristol Renaissance Fair. Photo by Storkk.]


Agrajes and the dwarf's nephew spurred their horses a gallop and struck each other boldly with their lances, which broke immediately. The bodies of their horses and their shields collided, and they both fell in different directions. Each knight got up bravely, and with great ire, they put their hands on their swords and fought on foot.

They gave such great and mighty blows that all who watched were amazed. The swords were sharp and the knights strong, and soon their armor was so damaged that it served for little defense. Their shields were cut in many places and their helmets were dented.

Galvanes saw that his nephew fought valiantly and quickly, better than the other knight, so he was very happy, and if he had esteemed him before, now he did so even more. Agrajes had such skill that at the beginning of a battle he was so fast that it seemed he would tire quickly, but his strength endured so well that at the end, he was attacking even faster. Thus sometimes he would be underestimated at the beginning of a battle, but at its end he achieved victory.

As Galvanes watched, he saw the dwarf's nephew pull back and say to Agrajes:

"We have fought enough, and it seems to me that the knight for whom ye fight is not guilty, nor is my uncle the dwarf, because otherwise the battle would not have lasted so long, and if ye wish, ye may go, accepting that both the knight and the dwarf have told the truth."

"No," Agrajes said, "the knight is truthful and the dwarf is false and vile, and I shall not leave you until that comes from your mouth. Prepare to defend yourself."

The dwarf's knight showed his strength, but it did little good, for he had already suffered many injuries. Agrajes struck great and frequent blows, and the knight could do little except cover himself with his shield. When the Duke saw him in danger of death, he felt great sorrow, for he dearly loved him. He began to return to his castle so he would not see him die, and said:

"Now I swear that I will give all knights-errant nothing but dishonor."

"Ye fight an insane war," Galvanes said, "if ye take on the knights-errant who wish to resolve injustices."

At this time the dwarf's nephew fell at the feet of Agrajes, who pulled off his helmet, struck him several times with the pommel of his sword, and said:

"Now say that the dwarf did wrong to the knight!"

"Oh, good knight!" he said. "Do not kill me! I say that the knight for whom ye fight is good and honest, and I promise to get the damsel out of prison. But in the name of God, do not make me say the dwarf, who is my uncle and who raised me, is a liar!"

Everyone who was nearby watching heard this. Agrajes took pity on the knight and said:

"I will do nothing about the dwarf, and as for you, I believe you are a good knight, and I will hold you acquitted if ye do what ye can to get the damsel out of prison."

The knight agreed. The Duke, who had heard none of this, was now close to his castle. Galvanes took the reins of his horse and showed him the dwarf's nephew at the feet of Agrajes and said:

"He is dead or defeated. What do ye say about the damsel?"

"Knight," the Duke said, "ye are mad if ye think that I shall do anything other with the damsel than that which I have decided and sworn."

"What have ye sworn?" Galvanes said.

"That she shall burn tomorrow morning," the Duke said, "if she does not tell me who the knight was whom she brought into my palace."

"What?" Galvanes said. "Ye will not give her to us?"

"No," the Duke said. "And do not stay any longer here. If not, I shall order something done about it."

Then many men of his company arrived, and Galvanes pulled his hand off the reins and said:

"Ye have threatened us and refused to release the damsel, which would be just. For that reason, I challenge you for myself and for all the knights-errant that wish to help me."

"And I challenge you and all of them," said the Duke. "It will be a bad moment when ye enter my lands."

Sir Galvanes returned to where Agrajes was and told him what had happened with the Duke and the challenges that were issued. He grew angry and said:

"A man like that, who can do nothing rightful, ought not be lord of a territory."

And, mounted on his horse, he said to the nephew of the dwarf:

"Remember what ye promised me about the damsel, and now do all in your power."

"I will do everything I can," he said.

It was now close to vespers, and the dwarf's nephew left the battlegrounds. Then Agrajes and Galvanes left and entered a forest called Arunda. Galvanes said:

"Nephew, we have challenged the Duke. Let us wait here for him, and anyone else who comes."

"That is good," Agrajes said.

Then they left the road and hid in the thick brush, where they got off their horses and sent the squires to the village to bring back food, and they spent the night there.

The Duke was angrier at the damsel than ever, and had her come before him and told her to prepare her soul, because the next day she would be burned if she did not immediately tell him the truth about the knight, but she did not wish to say anything.

The nephew of the dwarf knelt before the Duke and said what he had promised to say, begging him in the name of God to release the damsel, but the Duke refused, for he would rather lose his estate than break his decree. This greatly troubled the knight, who wanted to do what he had pledged.

The next morning the Duke ordered the damsel brought before him, and said:

"Chose the fire or tell me what I ask, for ye shall not escape one or the other."

She said:

"Do your will, but ye shall not do what is right."

Then the Duke ordered twelve armed men and two armed knights to take her. He rode on a large horse carrying only his staff in his hand, and went with them to burn the damsel at the edge of the forest. When they arrived, the Duke said:

"Now set fire to her and let her die of obstinacy."

Don Galvanes and his nephew saw all this well, for they were watching not for this but for anything they could do to enrage the Duke. As they were armed, they prepared to ride, and they ordered a squire to concern himself only with taking the damsel and making her safe.

As they left, they saw the fire and how the damsel was about to be thrown into it. She became so afraid that she said:

"My lord, I will tell the truth."

The Duke, as he approached to hear her, saw Sir Galvanes and Agrajes coming across the field shouting:

"Let us free the damsel!"

The two knights charged at them, and their lances met fiercely, but the Duke's knights both hit the ground, and the one that Galvanes knocked down could not have been saved by a doctor. The Duke put his company of armed men between them and himself.

Galvanes told him:

"Now ye shall see the war ye began." And they charged at him.

The Duke said to his men:

"Kill their horses and they will not be able to leave!"

But the knights charged into the men bravely, striking on all sides with their swords and trampling them with their horses, leaving the Duke's men spread over the field, some dead and others injured, and those who remained fled running.

When the Duke saw this, he felt afraid and headed for the town as fast as he could, and Galvanes chased him a while saying:

"Wait, my lord Duke, and ye shall see whom ye took as an enemy!"

But he kept fleeing and shouted for help. Galvanes and his nephew turned back and found that the squire had the damsel on his palfrey and he had mounted the horse of one of the dead knights. They left with her toward the forest.

The Duke armed himself and with all his men went to the forest but did not see the knights. He split them up into groups of five to search everywhere. He went with five of them on down a road and hurried so much that at the edge of a valley, he looked down and saw them riding with the damsel. The Duke said:

"Get them now! Give them no quarter!"

They went as fast as their horses could go. Galvanes, who saw them, said:

"Nephew, it seems your defensive skills will be tested, for that is the Duke and some of his men. There are five of them, but let us not be cowards because of that."

Agrajes, who was very valiant, said:

"That is true, my lord uncle, but being with you, I would have little concern for five of the Duke's men."

Then the Duke arrived and told them:

"At a bad moment ye dishonored me, and unfortunately, not even by killing men like you shall I be avenged."

Galvanes said:

"Have at them!"

Then they galloped at each other and their lances struck each other's shields so hard that they were immediately broken, but Galvanes and Agrajes held themselves so well that they could not be moved from their saddles. Taking their swords in hand, they attacked with great blows, as knights who knew well how to do battle. The Duke's men attacked bravely, and the sword fight was fierce and cruel.

Agrajes went to attack the Duke with great ire, and struck him beneath the visor of his helmet, and the blow was so violent that it cut through the helmet and sliced his nose to the cheeks. The Duke, fearing death, began to flee as fast as he could, with Agrajes behind him, but when he could not catch him, he turned and saw how his uncle was defending himself against four men, and he said to himself:

"Oh, God, protect such a good knight against these traitors!"

And he charged at them bravely. Galvanes struck one and made the sword fall from his hand, and when he saw how he clung to his shield, he grabbed the rim and pulled so hard he threw him to the ground. He saw that Agrajes had knocked down one of the others, and Galvanes came at the two who were attacking him, but they did not wait and fled into the forest, and they could not catch them.

They returned to where the damsel was and asked her if there was any settlement nearby.

"Yes," she said, "there is the fort of a knight named Olivas who will receive us gladly because he is the enemy of the Duke, who killed his cousin."

Then she guided them there and the knight welcomed them, and even more happily when he learned what had happened. The next day they armed themselves to go on their way, but Olivas took them aside and told them:

"My lords, the Duke killed my first cousin, a good knight, and traitorously. I want to challenge him before King Lisuarte. I ask your advice and help as knights-errant who seek out great battles to remain honest and make honest those who, without fear of God or shame, fail to be so."

"Knight," Galvanes said, "ye are obliged to ask that for the death that ye speak of, if it was done wrongly, and we are obliged to help you if necessary, for ye have a just cause. We will do that if the Duke wishes to enter into battle with any knights because, like you, we despise him and have been challenged by him."

"I thank you very much for that," he said, "and I wish to go with you."

"In the name of God," they said.

Then he armed himself and went with them on the road to Windsor, where they hoped to find King Lisuarte.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summary, Chapters 0 to 15

A quick recap of the story so far, for new readers or bewildered followers.

[Tintern Abbey, Wales. The Cistercian monastery was founded in 1131, and the buildings date from the 12th to 16th century. The monastery was dissolved in 1536 and fell into ruins. These days it is a popular tourist attraction. Photo by Gwyneth Box.]


King Perion of Gaul, while visiting the King of Little Brittany, falls in love with his daughter, Elisena, who feels the same. [Chapter 0]

They meet for several secret midnight trysts. After he returns home, she discovers she is pregnant, and with the help of a friend, she gives birth in secret. They put the baby boy in a wooden ark in a river with Perion's sword, gold ring, and a note covered with wax saying that the baby is named Amadis. The ark quickly floats into the sea, where, by divine miracle, Scottish knight named Gandales finds it while sailing home, and he adopts the boy as his son. [1]

Perion has a dream analyzed about the tryst. Gandales hears a prophecy about the brilliant future of the childe from Urganda the Unrecognized, a sorceress who protects Amadis; she is called "unrecognized" because she can look like anyone. [2]

When the Childe of the Sea (as Amadis is called) is seven years old, King Languines of Scotland visits and takes the Childe and Gandales's son Gandalin with him to his court. After Elisena's father dies, King Perion marries her. She does not tell him about Amadis, but they have another son, Galaor, whom a giant carries away when he is two and a half years old. The giant has a monk raise the boy because a prophecy told him that the boy will grow up to be a knight and help him take back his kingdom. [3]

Lisuarte has just become King of Great Britain, and while sailing home from Denmark, he leaves his ten-year-old daughter Oriana in Languines's court because she is seasick. The Childe of the Sea is twelve years old. They immediately fall deeply in love, but dare not speak of it to anyone, even each other.

But several years later, the Childe decides to become a knight to impress her. Gandales sends him the sword, ring, and wax-covered note, and Oriana takes the wax. The Childe learns from Languines that Gandales was not his father, but his true father is unknown.

King Perion stops at Languines's court looking for allies in a war with the King of Ireland, who has invaded his kingdom, and Languines's son Agrajes volunteers to help. The Childe tells Oriana he wants to become her knight and fight in the war, and she happily arranges to have Perion knight him in secret. Gandalin becomes his devoted squire.

The Childe rides out before dawn, and immediately comes to the aid of a badly injured knight whose wife has betrayed him. She sends her brothers to attack the Childe. He defeats them in a battle. [4]

Urganda the Unrecognized gives the Childe a magic lance. A damsel from Denmark (the Damsel of Denmark) meets him on the road and accompanies him as he uses that lance to rescue King Perion from death in castle of an ally of the King of Ireland. Perion is very grateful; the Childe continues on his quest for noble deeds; and the Damsel of Denmark goes on her way, which is to Oriana. Meanwhile, Galaor has grown up and wants to become a knight, so the giant comes and takes him to be trained. [5]

The Childe meets a damsel who has just been raped by an evil knight who assaults all passing damsels and ladies, and defeats and humiliates all passing knights. The Childe gets justice for her by killing the knight's soldiers, brothers, and finally beheads the evil knight in a spectacular fight. The damsel, thus avenged, continues on her way to see Agrajes with a message. [6]

In King Languines's court, they learn the Childe of the Sea has become a knight and is doing amazing deeds. Oriana is very happy. [7]

King Lisuarte calls his daughter Oriana back to his court. As she packs, she finds the note inside the wax, and sends the Damsel of Denmark to bring him the news of his name. After some minor adventures, the Childe of the Sea joins Agrajes to sail off to the war in Gaul. King Perion welcomes them. They fight a heated battle with the King of Ireland and his men. The Childe fights amazingly well and saves them from defeat, and the battle ends with an agreement to end the war with hand-to-hand combat between the King of Ireland and the Childe. The winner gets Gaul, the loser gets death. [8]

In an especially vivid and exciting chapter, the Childe defeats the King of Ireland. Afterwards, the Damsel of Denmark delivers the note from Oriana. If you haven't read this chapter, you should. [link to Chapter 9]

The Childe's gold ring and sword cause King Perion and Queen Elisena to realize that he is their son and his name is Amadis. There is much rejoicing. Eventually Amadis leaves for to King Lisuarte's court in Windsor to be near Oriana, but on the way, he meets a damsel sent by Urganda with a message for him to come help her. [10]

Galaor and the giant are traveling to King Lisuarte's court to have him knighted, but on the way, they see an amazingly skilled knight attack a moated castle and defeat its guards and knights to free a prisoner inside for a woman named Urganda. Galaor wants that knight to make him a knight, and he refuses out of humility, but Urganda orders him to. After he leaves, Amadis learns it was his brother.

Galaor, traveling with his stepfather giant, learns he is Amadis's brother. They arrive at the castle of the evil giant who stole Galaor's stepfather's lands, and on the way they meet two damsels who accompany them. [11]

Galaor defeats the evil giant, which makes everyone very happy. But soon, Galaor travels with one of the damsels to meet her lady. On the way they skirmish with a dwarf and his soldiers and knights, who seems to know the damsel.

The damsel takes Galaor to the castle of the Duke of Bristol and sneaks him in for a tryst with a princess named Aldeva; this is a traditional medieval erotic adventure. On his way out, he meets the dwarf and fights his way to freedom with much comic violence, but the damsel who led him there is imprisoned. [12]

Amadis is insulted by an arrogant knight named Dardan as he travels to Windsor; this inspires the author to deliver a sermon against pride. Amadis meets two damsels and learns that a woman will have all her estate given to her stepdaughter, Dardan's lover, if no one challenges Dardan in a trial by battle. After some minor adventures, he and the damsels arrive at Windsor but camp nearby in the forest. Amadis defeats Dardan in a battle witnessed by King Lisuarte, his court, Oriana, the Damsel of Denmark, and the townspeople, but Amadis rides off before he can be identified. [13]

Galaor goes to town, meets the Damsel of Denmark, then Oriana, and arranges for Amadis to sneak into a garden at night to talk to her. He does, and they confess their love for each other, knowing that, since he is the natural son of a minor monarch and she is the daughter of the known world's greatest king, they have little hope for satisfaction of their mortal desires. [14]

King Lisuarte is holding the woman Amadis fought for as a prisoner until her champion comes forward. Amadis, humble to a fault, does not believe he is worthy to present himself to such a great king, but he does it on behalf of the woman. King Lisuarte is desperate to ask him to be his knight, but he also promised to ask nothing of Amadis in exchange for learning who the mysterious knight was. Instead the Queen and Princess Oriana and the other ladies and damsels of the court ask Amadis to be their knight, and, under Oriana's orders, he agrees.

Meanwhile, Galaor, who had just left the Duke of Bristol's castle, goes to another castle to get a wound treated, but instead he is attacked and must fight for his life. More comic violence ensues. After he has killed everyone, he discovers a lovely damsel being held prisoner, whom he rescues, and in gratitude she treats his wound and his amorous desires. [15]

The story has been telling parallel adventures of Galaor and Amadis, contrasting their characters as well as alternating drama with comedy, and it will do so again, as ye shall soon see.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Chapter 16 [first half]

Which deals with what Agrajes saw after he came from the war in Gaul and some of the other things that he did.

[The "Chaucer" astrolabe, dated 1326, at the British Museum, used for astronomy, astrology, timekeeping, surveying, and navigation.]


Agrajes left the war in Gaul after Amadis had killed King Abies of Ireland in battle and come to know his father and mother, as has been told to you. He prepared to sail to Norway, where his lady Olinda was.

One day, he went hunting in the hills of a rocky peak at the seacoast, when suddenly a hailstorm with high winds struck with special fierceness at sea, making it rough and wild. He saw a ship being knocked from side to side by the force of the waves, and it was in peril of sinking. He felt great compassion, and since night was coming, he had large fires lit so they could signal salvation for the people in the ship and thus guide them from danger. He watched to see what would happen.

Finally, due to the force of the winds, the skill of the seamen, and above all the mercy of the true Lord, the ship that had many times seemed lost was safely brought to port. Agrajes, from one of the peaks, shouted to his hunters to lend every aid the damsels, terrified by their perils, who were being taken off the ship. He had them sent to some cottages nearby where he was lodging.

The ship's crew was taken and placed in the houses, and after they had eaten around some large fires that Agrajes ordered to be set, they fell into deep sleep. At the same time, the damsels had been placed in his own chambers so they would received better service and honors, but he had not yet seen them. But once the crew had been made secure, as a young knight, he wished to see the women, more to serve them than to make his heart subject to someone other than to whom it already was.

He looked through the doors of the chamber to see what they were doing, and he saw them sitting around a fire speaking with much joy about their rescue from danger, and recognized one of them as the beautiful Princess Olinda, his lady, daughter of the King of Norway. In the kingdom of his father as well as hers, and in other places, he had performed many feats at arms, but his heart, which had been free, had become subject with such force to her that his strength was broken by suffering and affliction. Infinite tears came to his eyes.

Shaken by the sight, he imagined the great danger that she had been in and how he had might have lost her, and almost out of his senses, he said:

"Oh, holy Mary, protect me! This is the lady of my heart!"

She heard this, and not suspecting who it was, sent one of her damsels to see who had said it. When she opened the door, she saw Agrajes there, transported by joy, and he told her who he was. She told her lady, who was no less joyful. She ordered him to enter, where, after many acts of love between them, satisfying their deep desires, that night passed with great pleasure and joy to their spirits.

The travelers spent six days resting until the sea was calmed, and Agrajes spent all those days with his lady without anyone knowing it except her damsels. He learned that Olinda was going to Great Britain to live in the court of King Lisuarte with Queen Brisena, sent by her father. He said that he had been traveling to Norway, where she had been, but since God had given him such good fortune, his journey would instead go to where she would be so he could serve her and see his cousin Amadis, whom he expect to find there. She thanked him greatly for this, and asked and ordered him to do so.

After this was arranged, at the end of those six days, when the sea was so calm that there was no danger to set sail, the damsels said goodbye to Agrajes and took to the sea. They traveled without difficulty and came to Great Britain, where they disembarked and then went to the town of Windsor, where King Lisuarte was. Olinda was well received by him, the Queen, her daughter, and all the other ladies and damsels, for they considered her to be of a high lineage and extraordinary beauty.

Agrajes remained at the seashore watching the ship in which his very beloved lady was traveling, and when it was lost from sight, he left for Briantes, the town where his father, King Languines, was. There he found his uncle Sir Galvanes the Landless and told him it would be wise to go to the court of King Lisuarte, where so many good knights lived, because they could better win honor and fame there than anywhere else. They were wasting time in Scotland, where they could not exercise their hearts except against men with little esteem at arms.

Sir Galvanes was a good knight who wished to earn honor and was not impeded by territories to govern because he possessed only a single castle, and it seemed advisable to him to follow the plan his nephew Agrajes had suggested. They bid goodbye to King Languines and set sail, taking only their arms, horses, and squires.

The brisk winds made them arrive quickly in Great Britain at a town called Bristol. They left it and got on a road through a forest, and on the other side, they met a damsel who asked them if they knew which road went to the Rock of Galtares.

"No," they said.

"But why do ye ask?" Agrajes said.

"I want to see if I can find a good knight there," she said. "He can remedy a great distress that I suffer."

"Ye are in error," Agrajes said. "At that rock ye speak of ye will find no knight, only that fierce giant Albadan, and if ye are already suffer distress, his evil deeds will double it."

"If ye knew what I do, ye would not turn away thinking it an error," she said. "The knight I seek fought with that giant one-on-one and killed him."

"Why, damsel," he said, "ye speak of wonders! No knight would take on any giant, especially that one, who is the most fierce and feared in all the islands in the sea. Only King Abies of Ireland fought against a giant. He was armed and the giant unarmed, and he killed him, and even still everyone took it as the world's greatest folly."

"My lords," the damsel said, "but this knight that I speak of was able to do it as a proper knight."

Then she told them how the battle went, and they were amazed. Agrajes asked the damsel if she knew the name of the knight who had attempted such a daring deed.

"Yes, I know it," she said.

"Then I beg ye to tell us it out of courtesy," Agrajes said.

"I tell you," she said, "that his name was Sir Galaor, and he is the son of the King of Gaul."

Agrajes trembled and said:

"Oh, damsel, ye tell me news that makes me happier than anyone else in the world, for I have learned about the cousin whom I thought more likely dead than alive!"

Then he told Sir Galvanes what he knew about Galaor, how he had been taken by a giant and how until that moment he had heard no news about him at all.

"Surely," Galvanes said, "his and his brother's lives have been nothing other than amazing, as well as their first acts of arms, so much so that I doubt if their equals could be found in the world."

Agrajes told the damsel:

"My friend, what do ye want from this knight that ye seek?"

"My lord," she said, "I would want him to help a damsel who is held prisoner on his account. A traitorous dwarf, the most false creature in the world, has had her taken."

Then she told them everything that happened to Galaor with the dwarf as it has already been told, except that she told them nothing about what happened with his lover Aldeva.

"And, my lords, because the damsel does not wish to do what the dwarf says, the Duke of Bristol has ordered that she shall be burned in here in ten days, and this is a great concern to the other ladies because the damsel, out of dear of death, might condemn one of them, saying that she took Galaor there for that end. And of the ten days, four have passed."

"If that is the situation," Agrajes said, "go no further, for we shall do what Galaor would do. If he cannot be here in person, his will shall be done. Now guide us in the name of God."

The damsel turned on the road toward where she had come, and they followed her. They arrived at the house of the Duke the day before the damsel would be burned, and at the hour when the Duke had sat down to eat. They dismounted and, armed as they were, went to where he was. The Duke greeted them, and they him, and he invited them to eat.

"My lord," they said, "First we will tell you why we have come."

And Sir Galvanes told him:

"Duke, ye are keeping a damsel prisoner because of false and vile words that a dwarf told you, and we sincerely beg you to release her, for ye have no fault in this. If it is necessary to fight over this, we will defend her against any two knights who wish to answer the call."

"Ye have said a lot," the Duke said.

He called for the dwarf, and told him:

"How dost thou respond to what these knights say, that thou wouldst falsely have me burn a damsel and that they would fight for her? I tell thee that thou shouldst have someone to support thee."

"My lord," the dwarf said, "I have someone who shall prove that I spoke the truth."

Then he called a knight, his nephew, who was strong and healthy and seemed to have no family resemblance to him, and the dwarf told him:

"Nephew, I need you to support me against these knights."

The nephew said:

"Knights, what did ye say against this loyal dwarf who suffered great dishonor from the knight the damsel brought here? Perhaps one of ye are that knight? I swear to you that he did harm to the dwarf and that the damsel should die, because she brought that knight to the chambers of the Duke."

Agrajes, who had become very annoyed, said:

"Certainly, he is not one of us, although we might wish to emulate his deeds, nor did he do harm. I will fight you at once. And of the damsel, I say that she must not die, and the dwarf was not honest about either of them."

"Then let us fight right now," said the dwarf's nephew.

He called for his arms, put them on, and mounted a good horse, and said to Agrajes:

"Knight, now it seems God has sent you, the one whom the damsel brought here, so I may make you pay for your misdeeds."

The Duke stopped eating, went with them, and took them in a field where jousts were usually fought. He told them:

"The damsel whom I hold prisoner I do not place in trial in this combat, for the harm the dwarf suffered is not her doing."

"My lord," Agrajes said, "ye shall burn her for what the dwarf said, and I say that he told you lies, and if I defeat this knight, who fights for him, by rights ye must give her to us."

"I have told you already," the Duke said, "and I will do no more." He left the field.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Amadis of Gaul's literary competitors

Other Spanish novels from the time of Amadis of Gaul that have survived the test of time.

[Poster for the movie Tirant lo Blanc.]


As soon as the printing press became a common technology, reading for pleasure caught on as a general pastime, and although Amadis of Gaul sat at the top of the best-seller lists, many other works found their way to bookshelves. Here are three noteworthy novels from pre- and early Renaissance Spain.

Tirante el Blanco (Tirant the White), by Joanot Martorell, 1490. Originally published in Valencian under the title Tirant lo Blanch, this is another novel of chivalry, but critics have preferred it to Amadis because it more realistic, ironic, and even mundane — but not totally realistic. Even though it was inspired by real knights like János Hundyai "the White" of Hungary, it rewrites the fall of Constantinople. It also has more sex than Amadis.

In 2006, it was made into an English-language movie starring Casper Zafer, Esther Nubiola, and Leonor Watling. The Spanish-language version of the movie poster proclaimed: "En un mundo en guerra, el arma más poderosa es la virginidad de una princesa." ("In a world at war, the most powerful weapon is the virginity of a princess.") The plot somewhat follows the latter part of the novel, and the movie is overall uneven, but it's pretty to watch, and as ye have already guessed, there is sex.

La Celestina, by Fernando de Rojas, 1499. Though written as a theatrical play under the title Tragicomedy of Calisto and Melibea, it would have been hard to stage in those days, and it really functions as a novel.

It tells how a deplorable young nobleman, Calisto, falls in love with a conflicted young noblewoman named Melibea. Celistina, an elderly sorceress who runs a brothel, acts as a go-between to bring them together, but she betrays them, as do their servants, to get all the money they can. It ends in heartrending tragedy, as medieval stories tended to do (including the oldest version of Amadis). La Celestina stands out for the psychological depth of its characterizations.

Lazarillo de Tormes, anonymous, 1554. Little Lazaro (Lazarus) is born at the banks of the Tormes River to a miserably poor family and is apprenticed to a series of bad masters. This sounds grim, but the novella remains consistently funny as it exposes the cruelty of poverty and rampant abuses of power. It was initially banned for heresy, which is probably why the author remained anonymous.

Lazarillo also founded a genre, the picaresque novel, whose hero is a low-class rogue living by his wits in an unjust world. If you liked Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, you'll love The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and His Fortunes and Adversities.

Read it online here: http://www.4olin.com/home.html

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chapter 15 [final half]

[How Galaor rescues a damsel in distress and, as ye shall see, again does that which cannot be written of in detail without great shame. He is so unlike his brother.]

[Suit of armor, Segovia Castle. Photo by Sue Burke.]


After Sir Galaor had gotten away from the armed men of the Duke of Bristol, where the dwarf had caused him so much trouble, he traveled through a forest called Arnida until almost vespers without knowing where he was or finding a town. At vespers he met a noble squire who rode a handsome workhorse. The knight Galaor was suffering from a large and terrible wound that had been caused by one of the three knights whom the dwarf had brought to the boat, and it had grown much worse since he had done his will with the damsel. He said:

"Good squire, can ye tell me where I could be treated for a wound?"

"I know a place," said the squire, "but those like you do not dare to go there, and if they do, they leave disgraced."

"Leave that be," he said. "Can someone there treat my wound?"

"I think that instead," the squire said, "ye would find someone there who would cause you more injuries."

"Show me where it is," Galaor said, "and I will see what ye want to frighten me with."

"I will not do it if I do not want to," he said.

"Or thou shalt show me," Galaor said, "or I will make thee show me, for thou art such a villein that anything done to thee would be deserved."

"Ye can do nothing that would make me do anything to please such a bad and ignoble knight," he said.

Galaor put his hand on his sword to frighten him and said:

"Or thou shalt guide me or thou shalt leave thy head here."

"I will guide you to where your madness shall be punished," said the squire, "and I will be avenged for what ye have done to me."

Then he went along the road and Galaor followed behind him off the road, and when they had traveled a league, they arrived at a handsome fortress in a forested valley.

"Ye see here the place I told you of," the squire said. "Let me go."

"Go," he said. "I am not at all fond of thy company."

"Ye shall be less fond of it soon," he said.

Galaor went toward the fortress and saw that it had been recently built. When he came to the door, he saw a well-armed knight on his horse and five foot soldiers equally well armed, and they said to Galaor:

"Are ye the one who brought our squire as a prisoner?"

"I do not know who your squire is," he said, "but I made a squire take me here who was the worst and the lowest that I have ever met in my life."

"That could well be him," the knight said. "But ye, what do ye wish here?"

"My lord," Galaor said, "I suffer from a bad wound, and I would wish to get care for it."

"Then enter," the knight said.

Galaor went forward, and the foot solders attacked on one side and the knight on the other. A villein came for Galaor, who took the battle ax from his hand, turned toward the knight, and gave him so fierce a blow with it that no doctor could have saved him. He attacked the foot soldiers and managed to kill three of them. The other two fled for the castle, with Galaor behind them, but his squire said:

"My lord, take your arms, because I hear a great uprising in the castle."

He did that, while the squire took the shield and an ax from one of the dead and said:

"My lord, I will help you against the villeins, but I cannot lay a hand on a knight, for I would lose forever the chance to become one."

Galaor told him:

"If I find the good knight that I seek, soon I will make thee a knight."

Then they went forward and saw two knights and ten foot soldiers coming toward them, and the two that were fleeing turned around. From a window, the squire who had guided Galaor was shouting:

"Kill him, kill him, but keep the horse and it will be mine!"

When Galaor heard this, he grew angry and charged at them, and them at him. They broke their lances, but there was no need to take arms any longer against the one whom Galaor had struck. He turned toward the other, sword in hand, infuriated, and with the first blow knocked him from his horse. He quickly turned toward the foot soldiers and saw that his squire had killed two of them. He told him:

"Kill them all, they are traitors."

Thus they did, and none escaped. When the squire in the window saw this, he ran and climbed a great staircase toward a tower, shouting:

"My lord, arm yourself. If not, ye are dead."

Galaor went toward the tower, but before he arrived, he saw a knight coming from it, fully armed, and at the foot of the tower they had a horse for him to ride. Galaor, who had dismounted because his horse could not enter beneath a low doorway, came to him, took the reins and said:

"Knight, do not ride, for I do not know if I can trust you."

The knight turned his face to him and said:

"Are ye the one who has killed my cousins and the men of my castle?"

"I do not know of whom ye speak," Galaor said, "but I tell you that I have found here the worst and most false people that I have ever seen."

"By good faith," said the knight, "the one whom ye killed is better than you, and ye shall pay dearly for it."

Then they came at each other on foot and fought hard, for the knight of the castle was skilled, and no one who saw it would not have marveled. They continued attacking each other for some time until the knight, who could no longer suffer the mighty and powerful blows from Galaor, began to flee, with Galaor in pursuit. The knight ran under a doorway, thinking to jump onto a parapet walk, but due to the weight of the armor, he could not jump to where he meant and fell onto some stones from such a height that he was broken to pieces.

Galaor, who saw him fall, turned back, cursing the castle and its inhabitants. As he stood, he heard a woman shouting from a chamber:

"My lord, have mercy! Do not leave me here!"

Galaor went to the door and said:

"Open it."

And she said:

"My lord, I cannot. I am imprisoned in chains."

Galaor kicked the door, knocked it down, entered, and found a beautiful lady who had a heavy chain around her neck. She said:

"My lord, what has happened to the lord of the castle and its other people?"

He said:

"They are all dead." And he said he had come there looking for someone who could treat a wound.

"I will treat you," she said. "Take me from this prison."

Galaor broke the lock and took the lady from the chamber, but first she took two small boxes from an chest where the lord of the castle kept things to treat wounds, and they went to the portal of the castle. There Galaor found the first knight whom he had fought, still moving, so he trampled him with his horse several times, and they left the castle.

Galaor looked at the lady and saw that she was wondrously beautiful, and said to her:

"My lady, I freed you from prison, and I shall fall into one if ye do not help me."

"I shall help in any way ye order," she said, "and if I can do anything else for you, it would be poor thanks not to, for ye took me out of a horrible tribulation."

With these amorous motives and will, and with the guile of Sir Galaor and the lady, which by good fortune they both found agreeable, they set to work at that which cannot be put into writing without great shame. Finally, that night they dwelt in the forest with some hunters in their tents, and there the lady treated the injury and the great desire that he had shown.

She told him that she was the daughter of Lelois of Flanders, to whom King Lisuarte had given County Clare; and of a lady whom he had had as a lover.

"And while I with my mother in a convent near here," she said, "that arrogant knight whom ye killed asked for me in matrimony, and because my father turned him down, he waited until one day when I was relaxing with some other damsels. He took me and brought me to his castle, where he put me in that cruel prison and told me:

" 'Ye rejected me in marriage, and my fame and honor was greatly diminished by you. I tell you that ye shall not leave here until your mother and you and your family beg me to take you as my wife.' "

"And I, who despised him more than anyone else in the world, decided it would better to remain there suffering for some time, confident in the mercy of God, than to be forever married to him."

"Well, my lady," Galaor said, "what shall I do with you? I have a long way to travel and much to do, and it would be vexing for you to wait for me."

"Take me to the convent where my mother is," she said.

"Guide me," he said, "and I shall follow you."

Then they got on the road and arrived at the convent before the sun had set, where both the damsel and Galaor were received with joy, and even more after the damsel told them of the amazing feats of arms that he had done. There Galaor rested at the request of those ladies.

The author ceases to tell of this and turns to speak of Agrajes, and of what happened to him after he left the war in Gaul.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An approach to novels of chivalry, by José Miguel Pallarés

A Spanish author sets a few myths straight about the history of Spanish literature.

You can find quite a few talented fantasy and science fiction authors in Spain besides José Miguel Pallarés, author of El tejido de la espada (The Weaving of the Sword), but they all face the same roadblock to success. The literary establishment considers speculative fiction inferior, foreign, or at least juvenile, nothing that serious readers might want to consider: it just isn't Spanish, and never has been. José Miguel knows better, as ye shall now see.


The imaginary in Spanish literature

The claim that realism has absolutely dominated Spanish literature is true only starting with the Siglo de Oro, the "Golden Age" in the 16th to 17th centuries. Until the Renaissance, the real and the imaginary coexisted in both literary and popular works, and, contrary to what some people think, many fantastic elements appeared in our literature.

We also shouldn't accept the claim that chivalric novels suffered "death by satire" at the hands of Don Quixote. There were religious, historic, and cultural causes — many causes — for the genre's decline, but they lie outside the central thesis of this article: Amadis of Gaul and chivalric novels. We'll take it as a given that a drastic change in our literature resulted in the dictatorship of rationality and the absolute domination of realism.

It would be imprecise to apply the term "fantasy" to many of the chivalric books that existed before Cervantes. The characters in these works lived objectively within their own reality, that is, with their passions, desires, thoughts, and deeds; and subjectively with the rest, the "otherness," that miscellaneous category that includes the ineffable, nightmares, faith, and imagination.

Mario Vargas Llosa made this basic point: "Chivalric novels are not unreal. They are realistic, but their concept of realty is wider and more complex than the strict notion of reality that Renaissance rationalism established. (...) Its reality generously reunites objective reality and imaginary reality in an indivisible totality in which flesh-and-bone men, beings from fantasy and dreams, right and wrong, and the possible and the impossible all coexist without discrimination and division."

Another direction

In the 15th century, two great literary tendencies were refined. One was the sentimental romance, which dealt with ideal love, such as Grisel y Maravella or Cárcel de Amor (Prison of Love) by Diego de San Pedro. This was the fashionable literature in palaces, castles, and towns, and it is also the most meritorious and least known genre in Castilian literature. As Usoz put it in a famous quote, they became "the Werther of the 15th century."

The second literary tendency of that century was the chivalric adventure novel.

Spain was one of the least feudal countries during the Middle Ages because its eight centuries of repopulation and reconquest considerably altered feudal power. The nobility was militarized and accustomed to wield the sword, and the milicias concejiles or "militia councils," the plebeian cavalries, were always on horseback, making war against the Moors for God and king, and lining their pockets. War generated immediate benefits, and so ours was a society at war.

With the end of the Reconquest came the explosion of the concept of the "state" in which the will of a monarch reigned ever more powerfully, and which turned the noble warrior into a courtesan and altered the taste of the bourgeois.

Novels of chivalry enjoyed their heyday while that dual societal change was taking place: on one hand, the wealthy bourgeois were eager for any wonder to free them from their day-to-day boredom; on the other hand, the nobility were losing their crude, tough, warlike character.

The chivalric novel inherited some formal elements from old-fashioned heroic poetry, but the genre itself grew as it began to be denatured.

It replaced its elemental, rough style with a greater relish for ostentation. Physical orientation waned; scene-setting mattered only to tell the adventure, but its jumbled locations got the same treatment whether they were a fictitious island or London, a city that the author had never seen. The love element was considerably increased; we can't forget the boom in gallant and courtly love. Above all, the protagonist changed his goal.

Earlier European epic narratives profiled a hero tough as flint and yet at the service of a superior noble cause: a family alliance, a country, religion. The new knight errant was a hymn to the hero, defending justice and the oppressed and courtly love, but the crux of the question was rooted in his search for adventure as a mere personal satisfaction or as the height of service to his beloved.

The hero of olde served his country, his family, and God. The newer-style paladin fought for glory, for his beloved, or for money, expressed in terms of income from land.

This more modern concept found acceptance in different social classes, and if it was united with a certain sense of wonder and was an easy read, with a less high-brow, smug style — that is, more accessible — we can understand why readers found it so delightful.

About its origins

No other country cultivated novels of chivalry like Spain, where Amadis was written, the only novel worth the qualification of "perfect." However, the genre was a French creation.

What has come to be called the "courtly novel" was popularized in the French court, a work in verse that successfully recreated all the landmarks of the Arthurian cycle and some elements of the Greek epics, especially those involving Troy and Alexander the Great, all that seasoned with some loans from Nordic literature.

The concept changed radically when it arrived at Iberian Peninsula kingdoms, which, for its part, already possessed two superb precedents. One was La gran conquista del Ultramar (The Great Conquest of Overseas Lands), written around 1293, an epic story about the Crusades. The other was El libro del caballero Zifar (The Book of the Knight Zifar), an anonymous work (the putative authorship of the Archdeacon of Madrid, Ferrán Martinez, has not been proven) published around the beginning of the 14th century and which, as Juan Luis Alborg put it well, is "halfway between the traditional moralizing exemplary tale and the pure chivalric novel."

The century of the knight errant, 1490 to 1602

Without a doubt, any dates are arbitrary, but this approach offers an interesting orientation: the genre enjoyed slightly more than a century of original production despite the fact that the most noteworthy chivalric novels were still being re-edited throughout the entire 16th century with relative frequency.

Nonetheless, the dates have not been chosen at random. Juan Martorell wrote Tirante el Blanco in 1490 in Valencian, a novel praised by Cervantes himself; a translation in Castilian was published in Valladolid in 1511. Don Juan de Silva y Toledo, lord of Cañadahermosa, published Policisne de Boecia in 1602, a work whose only merits were being the last novel of a genre in its fading glory, and generously plagiarizing Amadis.

A census of the titles would yield a list of more than one hundred books and would be as useless as the recital of the names of the Gothic kings that we were obliged to memorize in the Franco-era schools.

It's enough to say that great cycles arise as a function of a genre's popularity. Books mushroom during the height of a cycle, but at its low point we get only occasional works and translations — and I mean real translations, of course, since it had been common for an author to present himself to the readers as a mere translator of a work originally written in another language.

There was one masterpiece, Amadís de Gaula, three or four superb novels, and a few others that weren't bad, like the Palmerín cycle by Miguel Ferrer — and the rest, speaking plainly, were a pile of crap, as happens in any fertile genre.

Still, readers who want to enjoy themselves will find guaranteed quality in those novels of chivalry, and all the worthy people who consider themselves above the genre, who want to blow out a fart over their butt, as they say in Aragón, my native land, ought to abandon their resistance for one reason: their beloved Don Quixote cannot be understood or even read unless the reader is acquainted with these other novels.
Translated by Sue Burke.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chapter 15 [first half]

How Amadis made himself known to King Lisuarte and the grandees of his court, and was very well received by them all.

[Windsor Castle in modern philatelic rendering.]


Amadis rested that day with the damsels, and the next morning he armed himself, got on his horse, and left for the town, taking only the damsels. The King was in his palace, for he did not know where the knight would come from. Amadis went to the inn where the lady was, and when she saw him, she knelt before him and said:

"Oh, my lord, ye have given me all that I have."

He had her stand and said,

"My lady, let us go to the King, and ye shall be relieved of your charge and I shall be free to go where I have to."

Then he took off his helmet and shield, took the lady and damsels with him, and left for the palace, and wherever they passed, everyone said:

"This is the good knight who defeated Dardan!"

The King, when he heard this, left with a large company of knights, and when he saw Amadis, he went toward him his outstretched arms and said:

"My friend, ye are welcome. We have waited for you long."

Amadis knelt before him and said:

"My Lord, may God keep you in honor and joy."

The King took him by the hand and told him:

"May God help me, I hold you to be the best knight in the world."

"My lord," he said, "one may more rightly say that ye are the most worthy king in the world. But tell me, is the lady acquitted?"

"Yes," he said, "and she owes you as many thanks for coming here as for the battle that ye fought, for she could not leave this town until she had brought ye here."

"My lord," Amadis said, "everything ye do ye do rightly, but know that this lady never knew who fought in the battle until now."

They all marveled at his great handsomeness and how, being so young, he could have defeated Dardan, who was so brave and strong that he was feared and avoided in all Great Britain.

Amadis told the King:

"My lord, since your will has been satisfied and the lady acquitted, may God be with you. In all the world, ye are the king whom I would prefer to serve."

"Oh, friend," the King said, "do not leave so quickly if ye do not wish to cause me great sorrow."

Amadis said:

"May God keep me from that. And, if God were to help me, I believe I would serve you if only I were worthy to do so."

"Well, then, "the King said, "I ask you to stay here today."

Amadis agreed without showing how much it pleased him. The King took him by the hand and brought him to a beautiful chamber to remove his armor, the chamber where all the most important knights came to disarm themselves, for this was the king who honored his knights better than any other in the world, and who had the most knights in his court. He had a robe brought for Amadis to wear, then called King Arban of North Wales and the Count of Gloucester, and told them:

"Knights, accompany this knight, who well deserves the company of great men."

Then he went to the Queen and told her that he had in his house the good knight who had won the battle.

"My lord," the Queen said, "I am very pleased. And do ye know his name?"

"No," the King said. "Due to what I promised, I have not dared to ask."

"By chance," she said, "would he be the son of King Perion of Gaul?"

"I do not know," the King said.

"That squire who was talking with Mabilia," she said, "came looking for him and says that he had news that he had arrived in these lands."

The King called for the squire and told him:

"Follow me and tell me if ye know a knight who is in my palace."

Gandalin went with the King and, since he knew what to do, as soon as he saw Amadis, he knelt before him and said:

"Oh, my lord Amadis, I have been looking for you for so long!"

"My friend Gandalin," he said, "thou art very welcome. And what news is there of the King of Scotland?"

"My lord," he said, "very good, and of all of your friends."

Then Gandalin embraced him and said:

"Now, my lord, there is no need to hide, for ye are the famous Amadis, son of King Perion of Gaul, which ye both came to know after ye killed the worthy King Abies of Ireland in battle and saved the kingdom for your father, which he had almost lost."

Then more than before, everyone came to see him, for they already knew that Amadis had accomplished feats at arms that none other could do. They all passed that day doing him great honors, and when night came, King Arban of North Wales took him with him to his chambers on the counsel of the King, who had told him to do all he could to make him stay in his court.

That night Amadis stayed, well and pleasantly served, with King Arban of North Wales. King Lisuarte spoke with the Queen and told her how he could not order Amadis to stay, and how much he wanted a man so well known in the world to remain in his court because with such knights, monarchs were honored and feared. But he did not know how to make it happen.

"My lord," the Queen said, "such a great man as yourself would be spoken of badly if a knight like him came your house and departed without being granted whatever he might ask."

"He has not asked anything of me," the King said, "but I would grant anything."

"Then I will tell you what to do. Bid him to stay, or have someone ask it for you, and if he will not stay, tell him to come to see me before leaving, and I shall beg him, along with my daughter Oriana and his cousin Mabilia. They have known him for a long time, since he served them when he was a childe. I will tell him that all the other knights are yours and we wish him to be ours to do whatever we need."

"Ye have spoken very well," he said, "and in that manner, without a doubt he shall remain, and if he does not, we can rightly say that he lacks in upbringing what he has in courage."

King Arban of North Wales spoke that night with Amadis, but he could find no hope that he would stay. The next day they both went to hear Mass with the King, and after it was said, Amadis went to say goodbye to him. The King said:

"Truly, friend, your leaving saddens me deeply, and because of the promise that I made, I can ask nothing of you for I do not know if it would trouble you, but the Queen wishes to see you before ye go."

"I will do that very willingly," he said.

Then the King took him by the hand and went to where the Queen was and told her:

"Ye see here the son of King Perion of Gaul."

"May God save me, my lord," she said, "it gives me great pleasure, and he is very welcome."

Amadis wanted to kiss her hands, but she had him sit next to her, and the King returned to his knights, many of whom were waiting in a small courtyard. The Queen spoke to Amadis about many things, and he responded very wisely. The ladies and damsels were very surprised to see how handsome he was. He dared not raise his eyes so he would not look at his lady Oriana. Mabilia came to embrace him as is if she had not seen him earlier.

The Queen said to her daughter:

"Receive this knight who served you so well when he was young and will serve you now as a knight, if he is courteous. All of you, help me to bid of him what I shall ask."

Then she told him:

"Knight, my lord the King would very much wish that ye remain with him, but he has not been able to ask it. Now I want to see if women may find greater favor in knights than men can. I ask you to be a knight for me and my daughter and for all these ladies and damsels that ye see here. In this, ye shall show respect and make us removed from any conflict with the King in requests for a knight, for he has all his and we may have one of our own in you."

And then all came to ask it of him, and Oriana made a sign with her face to grant it. The Queen said:

"Well, knight, what shall ye do with our petition?"

"My lady, "he said, "who could do anything other than your command? Ye are the best queen in the world, to say nothing of the quality of all these other ladies. I, my lady, will remain according to the request made by you and your daughter and of course all these other ladies. But I tell ye I shall be yours alone. And if I can serve the king in some way, it shall be as yours and not as his."

"Then we receive you, I and all the others," the Queen said.

Then they sent the news to the King, who was very happy and sent King Arban of North Wales to bring him, which he did. When Amadis came before him, the King embraced him with great love and told him:

"My friend, I am very happy to have now achieved that which I wished so much, and I want you to receive my wholehearted thanks."

Amadis took it as a sign of favor. In this way, as ye hear, Amadis remained in the court of King Lisuarte at the orders of his lady.

Here the author ceases to tell of this and turns the story to speak of Sir Galaor.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yesterday was five centuries ago, by José Miguel Pallarés

How a boy in found a dusty copy of Amadis de Gaula in his family home in a medieval mountain town in Spain, and how it changed his life.

[Nublos Tower, originally part of the Knights Templar castle, now part of the town hall of Iglesuela del Cid.]


Today's commentary is by José Miguel Pallarés (Zaragoza, 1966), author of the novel El Tejido de la espada (The Weaving of the Sword), a tale of war and sorcery set in the early Middle Ages in Aragón, Spain. He is also a translator and author of other novels, short stories, and comics. You can read an interview of him discussing the novel here, in Spanish.


Several stories circulate about why the great-great-grandfather of the great-great-grandfather of the great-great-grandfather of the great-great-grandfather of my great-great-grandfather left Catalonia "at horse-hoof," as they say in the ancient chronicles: at top speed. In some versions, he was working as a tax collector for a count and fled, taking all the money, of course. In others, there was some sort of offense to the honor of the daughter of his feudal lord. (An illicit affair, what else?)

Honestly, we'll probably never know for sure after five centuries, and probably both stories are more false than Judas, but what is true is that this ancestor settled in Iglesuela del Cid, a town that had been founded by the Knights Templar many years earlier in the mountains on the border between the ancient kingdoms of Aragón and Valencia. Little remains of the Templar buildings, but medieval streets are still there, along with the Neapolitan-style palaces of the ambassadors and the mansions of the great families.

I was born in a big city and I'm a child of the asphalt, but I didn't live cut off from my family's past for long, because about 37 or 38 years ago, my father announced that we were going to spend the summer in the mountains.

As a result of that summer, I made a promise, and I discovered the past and a certain book of chivalry. But one thing at a time.

The trip turned into holy hell when we left the wide, well-paved road and entered the mountains. My father drove along calmly, but I was scared stiff. The road resembled a goat path, and when you looked beyond the shoulder, the view was hardly relaxing: a cliff with sharp rocks at the bottom of sheer drop of two thousand meters. I kept saying: "Go slower, go slower."

Occasionally — only occasionally — we passed through flat zones studded with rocks that had fallen from the crags on the mountains. What rocks! Back then, they seemed enormous, and now I know that they weighed tons. My dad tried to calm the family by saying that those rocks only fell during the springtime. I answered, "Go faster, go faster," and looked up, afraid that one of those "little stones" was about to crash down on us, even though we were in the middle of July.

I forgot about all my troubles when I saw Iglesuela del Cid for the first time, a town that had just left the 14th century, and the family home on Main Street, a building from the age of catapults. If they had told me it had already existed when Noah's ark reached land, I would have believed it. I remember it as if it were yesterday, that house with sturdy walls, sagging stairways, and dozens of rooms located in four floors. (It was perfect for playing hide and seek.) It had been closed up for years, almost since the Civil War, and so that day we ate dust until we were sick of it, but I was in seventh heaven. There were toys from the 19th century, although they weren't really toys, but I used them as if they were (I broke a few, oops), and the adults were too busy to keep me on a short leash.

I could do whatever I wanted for five days while my uncles and parents straightened out the house, from sunup to sundown.

Now for what I promised.

The first night a huge thunderstorm blew up, and lightning set fire to a stable. I heard shouting in the street, the rumble of people with buckets of water, and the hunger of a growing fire.

It was all getting better and better.

Within a week, I was enthralled by the Puig workshops, where they wove wool the old-fashioned way, and by that place, that town, without running water or modern improvements, but with palaces, streets fresh from the Middle Ages, and the Nublos Tower, which had been built by the Knights Templar.

Besides that, there were some crazy German scientists looking for a cure for the escurzones (local rattlesnakes with venom for which modern medicine has no antidote), and the big attraction: the priest's garden, the finest in town with the biggest variety of the best fruits, and the hardest-to-climb garden wall. Although it's a fact that the priest fired a shotgun loaded with rock salt, you wouldn't believe his aim.

I made friends there and discovered a new life, where men were men and the land made the rules. Each summer I lived among magnificent people. Tough. Demanding. Honorable. All the joys of modern life seemed tawdry to me starting then, and I didn't grow up to be a snob or a jerk because, thanks to them, I had the luck to learn what things were really worth.

The contact with nature in its pure state seduced me, and that was one constant during the next ten years. There was nothing like summer. It was a breath of life in the boredom that filled provincial living in the 1970s.

I learned to feel in harmony with this world and its code of ethics, but this rural world was fading away. Every summer its way of life and its morals born from the earth itself grew a little more diluted. I promised to write a book that would do justice to a centuries-old world that was disappearing, but at that moment I lacked the emotional and technical skills to begin the work.

I have to admit that I forgot that promise, but years later — many years later, unfortunately — I remembered Hemingway's advice: "Write what you know," and I got to work to tell an epic of a man in search of his freedom set in the late Middle Ages. And I wrote a book called El tejido de la espada.

I've written other works and I'm buried under new books, but none of them hold a place of honor in my house besides that one. Those who know me understand why, but they usually ask why it shares its privileged location with Amadís de Gaula.

Now we return to that magic summer when I was six years old and my uncles met with my dad to execute a will and decide what to do about things. We return to that stormy night, to those hundreds of steps lit by a candle, since the electric lights went out whenever there was a storm, to that 80-meter-square bedroom of mine where Dracula would have felt young, to the door at the end, the one to the falsa, a regionalism (many languages are spoken in Spain besides Castilian, Catalan, Basque, and Galician) that means "large attic," and to the words of my father:

"Don't go into this room."

Obviously, I focused all my attention in finding out where that damn key was to get into the falsa. What else is a kid going to do with that kind of provocation? I was going to get in there even if I had to open the door with an ax. It didn't come to that, but the house had all the tools of rural life, and it would take more than a door to stop me.

It took me two days to get the key and enter the kingdom of spiders.

There was dust, spider webs, old furniture, fine china, rusty cookware, ledger books, half a set of tools for cabinetmaking, yellowed yearbooks from long-gone centuries, even more yellowed family photographs, valuable antiques from antediluvian times (this explains the cloud of antique dealers who appeared days later and the speed at which my father and two uncles divided things up) and books: good, bad, and ordinary. This falsa could have been a room in Gormenghast Castle.

I've left the best for the end: a big book with relatively new leather covers. I took off the paper it was wrapped in and got covered in dust from head to foot, and my knees trembled when I opened it. There were loose illustrations of knights charging at a gallop and a tome with very strange typeface. I could make out the writing, but not well, although eventually I read the title: Los cuatro libros del virtuoso caballero Amadís de Gaula. I went crazy when I saw the blurred date: 1817. Napoleon Bonaparte must have been alive when that pile of dusty pages was printed! Later, reality came and ruined the fun: an expert cleaned the numbers before assessing it and its date was 1837.

Things are only perfect in movies, and the book was missing a lot of pages at the beginning, and it began in the middle of what eventually (that is, ten years later) I would identify as Chapter 8. More or less it said, and this may not be exact, but I'd rather quote it just as I remember it: "He turned his head and saw the knight whom he had just jousted, and another knight with him. Taking up his arms, he charged at them. They had their lances lowered and their horses were going at full speed. And the people at the tents saw him going so well seated in his saddle that they were amazed."

I was a professional nitpicker in those days and I began to see spelling errors and strange things: they had to explain to me that Castilian was very different when that book was written, including the use of the "b" and the "v" and what it took me a little longer to realize was a cedilla (ç).

My parents discovered right away that I'd entered the falsa, and oh, no matter how much I denied it, I was covered in dirt. The rest of the house sparkled, and the falsa was the only room that they still had to clean. No, not at all.

I would have let it go and I would have forgotten the book, I swear, but my father said:

"Don't go in that room and don't you dare touch that book, because it's very old and you'll damage it."

It's the adults who ask for trouble.

I did whatever it took to get myself a candle and a box of matches, and I sneaked in at night, when everyone else was in bed, to read those old, cracked pages that smelled like death. I sat down to devour the stories about Amadis in the chair of my great-grandfather Miguel, a big hulking man who they said could single-handedly stop a heifer, and to judge from the photographs and because they had to build a chair and a bed to measure, it might have been true. I might be thinking of my great-great-grandfather, but with our foolish custom of calling all the first-born sons Miguel, naturally there is a platoon of men called Miguel Pallarés, and I get them confused. "What century was he from?" I would ask when they mentioned yet another Miguel Pallarés.

Up in that chair the size of a burro, I read about the deeds of knights and princesses by the light of my candle. The story was new. The character was great. The tale was more addictive than a sinful woman who out-curved a Coca-Cola bottle, as Montero Glez would say.

And best of all, it had been banned.

Was it perfect?

Yes, it was, but perfection isn't made to last, and that didn't last either. The coming weeks brought new members of the family, and they brought the bad guys, the antique dealers who paid for stuff that was useless but valuable because it was old. The book disappeared.

I was left so shattered that my mother noticed and spoke to my father. When we got back to our apartment in Zaragoza, so clean, so modern, so boring, he searched through every bookstore until he got (by special order) a copy that I could read at my pleasure, complete from the beginning. It wasn't the same by electric light and without that air of danger, but Amadís de Gaula was still a terrific read, and it ranks among the best memories of my childhood.

According to the experts, the book must have been written in 1492, although it wasn't published until 1508 in my home town, Zaragoza¹, the same year as my ancestor went running out to find someplace new to live. A busy year. Those who say life runs in cycles are probably right: "Not many years after the passion of our Redeemer and Savior Jesus Christ, there was a Christian king in Little Brittany by the name of Garinter, who was of the true faith...."
¹An earlier edition probably existed, since an edition published in 1511 in Seville was not based on the Zaragoza version.
Translation by Sue Burke.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chapter 14 [final half]

[Love involves battles, just like war, and Amadis, the best and bravest knight in the world, must draw on his courage to speak to Oriana and beg for his life.]

[Window in the Casa de los Picos, built in the 15th century by Pedro López de Ayala, Count of Fuensalida, in Segovia, Spain. Photo by Sue Burke.]


Gandalin left Mabilia with the message to carry to his lord, who was waiting, expecting life or death according to the news he brought. At that time, without doubt he was so troubled that his strength could suffer no more. The great relief in being so close to his lady had turned into a deep desire to see her, a desire so troubled and anguished that he was at the point of passing away. When he saw Gandalin coming, he went to him and said:

"My friend Gandalin, what news doth thou bring?"

"Good news, my lord," he said.

"Didst thou see the Damsel of Denmark?"

"Yes, I did."

"And did she know what to do?"

"My lord," he said, "I bring better news than ye think."

Amadis trembled with pleasure and said:

"By God, tell me right away."

Gandalin told him everything that had happened with his lady, and what they had said to each other, and what his cousin Mabilia had said, and how they had arranged a meeting, so that nothing remained that he had not told. Ye can already imagine the great joy that this gave to Amadis, and he said to Gandalin:

"My true friend, thou wert more wise and daring on my behalf than I would have been, and this is no surprise, for thy father has both in abundance. Now tell me if thou knowest well the place where she has ordered me to go."

"Yes, my lord," he said, "for Oriana showed me."

"Oh, God!" Amadis said. "How shall I repay this lady for the great mercy that she has granted me? I do not know why I complain of my troubles."

Gandalin gave him the ring and said:

"Take this ring that your lady sent you because it is the one that she likes most."

He took it as tears came to his eyes, and kissing it, he put it immediately over his heart and for a while was unable to speak, but he put it on his finger and said:

"Oh, ring, thou wert just on the hand worth more than any other in the world!"

"My lord," Gandalin said, "go to the damsels and be happy, because this worry will destroy you and could cause much harm to your love affair."

He did so, and at dinner spoke more and with greater pleasure than usual, which made the damsels very happy, for he was the most gracious and pleasant knight in the world when his thoughts and troubles did not afflict him. When it was time to sleep, they went to their tents as usual, but when the hour came, Amadis got up and found that Gandalin already had the horses saddled and his arms ready. He armed himself, since he did not know what might happen, and they rode to the town.

They arrived at a grove a trees near the garden that Gandalin had seen that day. They dismounted and left their horses there, went on foot, and entered the garden through a small opening that the rain had made. When they arrived at the window, Gandalin called out softly. Oriana, who had made sure not to sleep, heard him. She got up, called Mabilia, and said:

"I think your cousin is here."

"It is my cousin," she said, "but ye have more interest in him than all his family."

Then they both went to the window and lit candles that gave off bright light, and they opened it. Amadis saw his lady by the light of the candles, and she seemed so attractive that no one would believe that so much beauty could be united in any woman in the world. She wore Indian silk worked with dense golden flowers. Her hair was loose and wonderfully beautiful, covered by nothing but a rich garland.

When Amadis saw her, he trembled all over with pleasure, and his heart jumped so high it could not be still. When Oriana saw him, she came to the window and said:

"My lord, you are very welcome in this land, where many of us have wanted to see you and have had great pleasure to hear of your good fortune both in arms and in learning about your mother and father."

Amadis, when he heard this, although he had been struck speechless, strove more than he had before in any other battle and said:

"My lady, if my discretion is not equal to the task of repaying the kindness of what ye said and did by sending the Damsel of Denmark, do not be surprised, because my heart is confused and a prisoner of overpowering love. It does not give me free will in speech. Thus I can subdue all things with sweet thoughts of you, but in your sight I am subdued, and none of my senses remain under my free will. If I, my lady, were so worthy, or if my service deserved it, I would ask you now to pity this much-troubled heart before it is undone by tears. I ask this pity, my lady, not for my relief, because upon nearing the things that are most truly loved, much more the desire and afliction grows and increases, but because, if it were to reach its end, it would kill he who thinks of nothing other than to serve you."

"My lord," Oriana said, "all that you say I believe without doubt, because what my heart feels shows it to be true, but I tell you that it does not seem prudent to me that ye suffer as much as Gandalin told me. It can benefit nothing and may cause our love to be discovered, which could do us great harm, and if the life of one were to end, the other could not withstand it. Because of that and by the dominion that I have over you, I order you to temper your life and thus to temper mine, which thinks of nothing other than how your desires may find relief."

"My lady," he said, "I shall do all that ye command, except that for which my strength will not be sufficient."

"And what is that?" she said.

"The thought," he said, "that my sanity cannot resist those mortal desires by which it is so cruelly tormented."

"I do not ask ye to set aside everything," she said, "but rather that ye act in such a way ye are not vexed before good men, because by destroying your life, ye already know what ye shall reap, as I have said. And, my lord, I tell you to remain with my father if he asks you, for the things that ye do ye shall do for me. From here forward speak to me without shame and tell me the things that would make you most happy, and I shall do all that I possibly can."

"My lady," he said, "I am yours and I came at your orders. I will do nothing other than that which you command."

Mabilia arrived and said:

"My lady, let me speak a bit with this knight."

"Come," Oriana said, "for I wish to see him while you speak with him."

Then Mabilia said:

"My lord and cousin, you are very welcome, for ye have given us much joy."

"My lady and cousin," he said, "ye are well met, and while I was obliged to cherish and love ye elsewhere, even more so am I here. Have mercy on me for my debt to you."

She said:

"In your service I shall place my life and my service, but I well know from what this lady has told me, they might not be needed."

Gandalin, who saw that morning was approaching, said:

"My lord, however much it may not please ye, the day shall come soon, and it obliges us to leave here."

Oriana said:

"My lord, go now, and do as I said."

Amadis took her hands, which she had placed through the bars on the window to wipe the tears that streamed down his face, and he kissed them many times, then left the damsels.

They rode on their horses and arrived before dawn broke at the tents, where he disarmed himself and went to his bed without anyone hearing. The damsels got up, and one remained to provide company to Amadis and the other went to the town. Know ye that they were sisters and first cousins to the lady for whom Amadis had fought.

Amadis slept until the sun had risen, and when he got up, he called for Gandalin and told him to go to the town as his lady and Mabilia had ordered. Gandalin left and Amadis remained talking with the damsel, but soon he saw the other one coming back from the town, weeping hard, and riding as fast as her palfrey could go.

Amadis said:

"What is this, my good friend? Who made ye sad? May God help me, that person shall be taught a good lesson, if my body can deliver this."

"My lord," she said, "ye alone can solve it."

"Tell me now," he said, "and if I do not make it right, never again ride in the company of a strange knight."

When she heard this, the damsel said:

"My lord, our cousin, the lady for whom ye fought, is a prisoner. The King ordered her to make the knight who fought for her come forward. If not, she may not leave the town by any means. And ye know well that she cannot make it happen because she knows nothing about you. The King has ordered you to be sought everywhere and is very angry with her, believing that she knows where ye are hidden."

"I would prefer there were another way," he said, "because I am not well enough renowed to make myself known to such an distinguished man. I tell you that although everyone in his court were to find me, I would not take one step towards it even by force. But I cannot be here and not do what ye wish, for I love and value you both."

The damsels knelt before him and thanked him deeply.

"Now one of you should go to the lady," he said, "and tell her to make an agreement with the King to ask nothing from the knight against his will, and I shall be there tomorrow at the third hour of the day."

The damsel returned immediately and told the lady, which made her very happy, and she went before the King and said:

"My lord, if ye grant that ye shall not ask the knight to do anything against his will, he shall be here tomorrow at the third hour of the day. And if not, not even I can make him known to you, for God help me, I do not know who he is nor why he wished to fight for me."

The King granted her request, for he greatly desired to know who the knight was. With that, the lady left. The news was heard throughout the palace and the town: "The good knight who won the battle will be here tomorrow." And everyone was very happy because they had despised Dardan for his arrogance and bad behavior.

The damsel returned to Amadis and told him that an agreement had been made with the King as the lady had asked.